Did you know there was a strong and vocal secession movement in the north prior to the Civil War?

Most people don’t. That bit of history pretty much disappeared down the Orwellian memory hole long ago.

In fact, radical abolitionists did advance the idea of secession. They argued that non-slave states simply could not remain associated with those allowing such a vile and immoral institution.

Slavery was so contentious, Congress passed a Gag Rule in 1836. All petitions relating to slavery were tabled without referring them to a committee, printing them or even discussing them. Essentially, Congress swept the issue under the rug.

John Quincy Adams vehemently opposed the Gag Rule, believing it was a violation of the First Amendment right to petition, and he was known to read slavery related petitions when he had the House floor on other matters. On Jan. 24, 1842, Adams introduced a petition from 46 residents of Haverhill, Massachusetts. It called for the dissolution of the Union because “a vast proportion of their resources” supported the southern institution of slavery.

The House attempted to censure Adams, but failed.

In the coming months, northern calls for disunion grew, led prominently by William Lloyd Garrison. The American Anti-Slavery Society adopted the slogan, “No Union with Slaveholders.”

As the secession chorus grew, many abolitionists proposed a more moderate strategy: nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act. An abolitionist paper called the Antislavery Bugle made the case in its Oct. 14, 1854, edition.

“…before they are ready for these extreme measures (breaking the Union), as they esteem them, there is a direction in which they can employ their political energies if they see good…They can do for Liberty what the Slave States do for Slavery. They can nullify the laws of Congress providing for the recapture of Slaves, and punish as felons all men pursuing or claiming slaves, or assisting in the pursuit.”

Once again, we see nullification as the “moderate middle road” between unlimited submission and outright destruction of the constitutional system.


Mike Maharrey

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